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“Being involved in a clinical trial saved my life” – Tony’s story


Tony McHale, a screenwriter, was invited to take part in the IMPACT study in 2012, an international clinical trial offering regular screening for men at increased risk of prostate cancer. Around 18 months later, he was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 61. After undergoing intense radiotherapy treatment, he has remained cancer-free ever since.

Posted on 26 June, 2024 by Alison Halliday

Tony McHale and his wife, outdoors, wearing sunglasses and smiling

Image: Tony and his wife. Credit: Tony McHale

Now 73, Tony lives with Jan, his wife of 53 years, in Buckinghamshire. They have two grown-up children, Matt and Sally, and four grandchildren. Twelve years ago, his younger sister, Gwynneth, suggested he should get tested for an alteration in the BRCA2 gene that would significantly increase his risk of developing prostate cancer.

“My mother died of breast cancer in her fifties – and Gwynneth had also been diagnosed with the disease at a similar age,” Tony recalls. “Through that process, she’d discovered she had an alteration in the BRCA2 gene, and she convinced me to get tested for it too.”

Although initially hesitant, Tony agreed to the test and found out that he carried the BRCA2 mutation. Shortly after, the ICR’s Professor Rosalind Eeles got in touch to invite him to join the IMPACT study. This international trial, led by Professor Eeles, is aimed at determining whether regular screening of men, like Tony, who carry genetic alterations that increase their risk of prostate cancer will lead to earlier diagnosis of aggressive forms of the disease.

Tony joined the clinical trial in 2012, undergoing regular blood tests to look for signs of prostate cancer. Around 18 months later, the screening unexpectedly revealed that he had developed prostate cancer, despite having no symptoms of the disease.

“I couldn't believe it,” he says. “It took quite a long time for the news to sink in. We all think we're invincible, and it’s a major shock when you discover that you’re not.”

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Professor Rosalind Eeles and Tony McHale smiling into the camera at an ICR event

Image: Professor Eeles and Tony McHale at a recent ICR event. Credit: ICR/Balazs Hollenbach

“I'm incredibly lucky to be alive"

Tony was immediately given a three-month course of intensive radiotherapy treatment. After this ended, Professor Eeles personally delivered the news that he was clear of cancer.

“It was a fantastic moment,” he recalls. “I’ve got to be honest, I cried – just from the relief. I felt I’d be given a new lease of life.”

“Every day, I think I’m incredibly lucky to be alive. It’s a great feeling, especially as I have a close friend of a similar age who recently died of prostate cancer. When he was diagnosed, the disease was aggressive and terminal. I can’t help but think if it had been found earlier, things might have been different.”

Ten years later, Tony now still undergoes annual testing but has remained cancer-free.

Tony McHale speaking at an ICR event

Image: Tony McHale speaking at a recent ICR event. Credit: ICR/Balazs Hollenbach

“My diagnosis could have been missed"

Tony feels very grateful for the unique set of circumstances that led him to this point. “If I hadn’t had the genetic test for the BRCA2 gene and been aware of my risk of developing prostate cancer, my diagnosis could have been missed,” he explains.

“Being involved in the IMPACT study saved my life. If I hadn’t taken part, I would never have known I had prostate cancer. As far as I was aware, I didn’t have any symptoms - and the sooner the disease is detected and treatment started, the far greater the chances of survival.”

Tony emphasises the importance of research into prostate cancer, saying, “The more scientists can find out about the disease, the more they will be able to control it and the better the treatment will be – quicker, easier, and more precise.” 

Learn more about our research into prostate cancer and how we are helping more men to survive this disease.

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